What initially started off as a hobby or passion is now turning out to be a major lucrative business for young entrepreneurs who are sourcing local fruits from farmers and converting them into flavourful wines.
A trip to Himachal Pradesh perhaps would be incomplete unless you sampled an apple wine. The same holds true for Maharashtra’s mango wines such as Rhythm, Coorg Wines’ coffee wine in south India, and Naara Aaba’s kiwi wines in Arunachal Pradesh. These wines are now available in upscale neighbourhood wine shops in metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and they are increasingly becoming popular with the millennials who are high on flavour.
More and more fruit wines are entering the fray in India. What initially started off as a hobby or passion is now turning out to be a major lucrative business for young entrepreneurs who are sourcing local fruits from farmers and converting them into flavourful wines. The journey has not been easy and the growth is gradual.
When Akalpit Prabhune started his Khadakwasla-based winery, Rhythm Winery, a part of Hillcrest Foods & Beverages in 2010, his aim was to showcase fruits grown in the various belts of Maharashtra. Going beyond grapes, he began making wines from strawberry, peaches, mulberry, raspberry and even mangoes. Their Alphonso mango wine, which has been served to guests at Marylebone’s Ooty Restaurant for more than a year now, will soon be available at retail outlets across Europe and the UK. “The fruit wine market is evolving in small pockets of the country where boutique wineries are making wine from local fruit. In Maharashtra, there are a few wineries making strawberry, jamun and chikoo wines; in the North-East, you will find wineries making lychee and plum wines,” he said, adding the fruit wine market is still in a very preliminary stage and will pick up in the next five years.
In 2019, the company launched two premium wines — Mulberry and Raspberry — which are priced slightly higher. There are trials happening with Cranberry in the premium segment which should be launched soon, he said. Prabhune has plans to establish a boutique winery near Talegaon in Pune along with a wine-tasting room. The project is still one-and-half years away but he is confident that once the winery is established, it would encourage wine tourism in fruit wines as well. Rhythm wines are currently exported to the UK and Singapore. Covid-19 hit institutional sales but social media helped generate interest and helped the brand penetrate markets in Mumbai and Pune.
If Prabhune managed to reach out to urban consumers in Mumbai and Pune, Tage Rita, an agricultural engineer and founder of Lambu-Subu Food and Beverages, made a mark globally by producing kiwi wine locally from Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh’s lower Subansiri district a few years ago. “It was out of pure love for delicious fruits like organic kiwi fruits and for the love of good wines that a winery was established,” Tage Rita told FE. The fruits were just rotting on the ground and wine-making is a solution for adding value to these fruits, she said. The response of kiwi wine was tremendous. “Our Naara Aba brand created its own USP of being an exotic fruit (organic kiwi) wine among wine enthusiasts. APEDA, government of India, took the organic kiwi wine to international exhibitions. We received numerous business enquiries from national and international houses. Currently, commercial exports are yet to take off, the final talks are on for a few Asean and west Asian countries. This pandemic has delayed the process,” she said.
In October 2020, her company Lambu-Subu Food and Beverages launched Narra Aaba pear and plum wines. Like kiwi, the plum and pear are sourced directly from farmers in Ziro valley. There are plans to make wines out of plums, peaches, wild apple, rhodendron, she said. The objective is to reach out to markets where the culture of wine is prevalent, she said.
Like Tage Rita, Priyanka Save, who hails from a farming background and returned from the US, found that 40% of Chikoo grown on their property was getting wasted. “I discussed this with my husband Nagesh Pai. After a lot of research, we came up with the idea of creating Chikoo fruit wine. That’s how Fruzzanté, the first-of-its-kind homegrown range of 100% sparkling fruit alcoholic beverages got going and we became entrepreneurs. Fruzzanté is a carbonated alcoholic beverage. To make the drink easily identifiable, we coined the word Frizz and eventually branded our products as Fruzzanté,” she said.
During the pandemic the couple took special permissions to run their trucks to fetch harvested fruits to prevent farmers from huge losses. The efforts paid off, as despite the pandemic, the company surpassed its yearly sales target in October 2020. “The culture of wine consumption is steadily catching up in India. However, there are various distinctions between different alcoholic beverages…Typically, wine gets better with ageing. On the contrary what we are creating is a ‘ready to drink’ beverage which has a shelf-life of no longer than two years. Unlike wine, our products don’t require ageing. Millennials today are quite open to experimenting with new tastes and flavours. This is why our products are gaining a lot of acceptance among them,” she said.
There are other fruit wines like Jamun wines from Resvera Winery in Nashik, Minchy’s Food Products, which produces Wonder Wyne in Himachal Pradesh. They offer wines with apple, plum and peach. The Meghalaya government has recently announced plans to issue licences for the manufacture of homemade fruit wines to encourage sales in domestic and international markets. The message is loud and clear. Fruit wines are here to stay!